2013-09-20 / Front Page

School, labor unions work on contracts

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

As students stayed busy the past few months enjoying everything Maine has to offer, members of the Board of Education and school district labor unions spent time updating union contracts.

On Wednesday, Sept. 5, the Board of Education formally approved a new contract for the Scarborough maintenance employees through June 30, 2016.

Jackie Perry, chairman of the Board of Education’s negotiation committee, said the maintenance employees union consists of two employees and a supervisor who are tasked with repairing the interior and exterior of the schools.

While the maintenance workers have a new contract, the Board of Education is still trying to work out new contracts for other school district employees.

“We are actively negotiating with the professional staff and the administrative staff and we will be going into fact-finding for the custodial and cafeteria contract,” Perry told the Board of Education at the Sept. 5 meeting.

“Negotiations have gone well,” Perry added. “I anticipate coming to a conclusion on all our of contacts very soon.”

Perry said last week the negotiations committee and members of the Scarborough Education Alliance, a group that represents the schools’ labor unions, sat down in mediation Monday, Sept. 9, but could not reach an agreement on a new contract for custodians and food service employees.

She said it appears the process will move to factfi nding at the end of next month. Either party, she said, could reopen negotiations between now and then.

Fact-finding, Perry explained, is the part of the process when each party explains their position to three fact-finders: one chosen by the Board of Education, one chosen by the Education Alliance and one neutral person.

“Each side presents its case. Each side presents what they see as the facts in the case and what they see as the glitches,” Perry said.

Perry said the factfi nders can only make recommendations, not mandates, on employee wages and benefits—the most contentious issue of the contract negotiations thus far.

The custodial and food service staffs have been working without a contract since July 1, 2012. Negotiations on a new threeyear contract between the Board of Education and the Scarborough Education Alliance began in spring 2012. Negotiations stalled in March 2013 after a series of proposals and counter proposals, which forced talks to go from negotiation to mediation before the Maine Labor Relations Board.

Crystal Goodrich, former president of the Scarborough Education Alliance, couldn’t be reached for comment this week, but in late March told the Leader negotiations on a new contract were compounded when the Board of Education expressed interest in cutting $30,000 in custodial costs, possibly by outsourcing the work. Justin Stebbins, a foreign language teacher at Scarborough Middle School, is the new president of the alliance.

“We met as an association and came up with a costsavings plan by reorganizing the staff, decreasing staff numbers and decreasing what we felt was over coverage at events,” Goodrich, an occupational therapist at Wentworth Intermediate School, said at the time.

The Board of Education, however, rejected the alliance’s cost-savings plan.

The Board countered with a proposal that would reduce the average pay for custodians by $3 an hour and reduce the amount the district would pay for health insurance for custodians. Pay for food service employees was not changed, but benefits for the group was.

The alliance argued such cuts would make it difficult to retain employees.

“I probably would have to leave. I wouldn’t be making enough to live. I need my health insurance,” Deb Bean, a longtime custodian who had a brain tumor removed in 2012, said at the time.

Josh Collins, a custodian at Blue Point School, told the Leader in March that outsourcing would change the relationship the custodians have created with students and staff over the years.

“If they go with outsourcing, it would bring in 20 to 30 completely new individuals into the school,” Collins said. “They would be strangers to the kids, parents and teachers.”

Perry said last week the board’s interest in outsourcing has nothing to do with how the custodial employees have done their job.

“Our buildings look beautiful. It has nothing to do with job performance,” Perry said. “It is just we have had such a horrible time trying to put together a school budget these last three or four years.

“Those of us on the board can’t turn away from potential cost savings.”

Perry is optimistic the two sides can come to an agreement.

“We have wonderful employees. I am confident that we are going to come to some sort of agreement. We’ve always tried to be fair and they have always tried to be fair,” Perry said.

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